The A&E true crime miniseries Invisible Monsters: Serial Killers in America (starting tonight at 9:00 p.m. ET/PT) aims to explore how the 1970’s and 1980’s gave rise to five of America’s most infamous serial murderers.
Dr. Kadijah Monk is one of the experts featured in the special, and spoke to Crime-TV.com about why it’s not your typical true crime show, the cultural factors surrounding the likes of BTK and the Green River Killer, and why America is so fascinated by true crime.
Preview the miniseries in our interview and see the full True Crime Week 2021 schedule.
Crime-TV.com: Invisible Monsters discusses serial killers that true crime has covered extensively, such as Ted Bundy, Jeffrey Dahmer and the Green River Killer. What does this series have to offer that we haven’t seen before?
Dr. Kadijah Monk: This is the first time that we get to examine the intersecting paths of Ted Bundy, John Wayne Gacy, Jeffrey Dahmer, Gary Ridgway (the Green River Killer) and Dennis Rader (BTK). There is something about looking at them at the same time in the same social context that gives us a broader understanding of why they were able to get away with what they did for so long.
Crime-TV.com: That 1970’s to early 1980’s period fascinates true crime fans because it’s so pivotal in American crime history. What makes it so important?
KM: It really is. One of the things that we have to think about is social context. When we’re thinking about the seventies and eighties, this is a time where we were much more naive and we were much more trusting as a society.
If we think about it from a law enforcement perspective, they just finished up with the Civil Rights era of the late sixties and the Vietnam era. There was a tremendous amount of distrust with law enforcement, and they were going through their own sort of identity crisis. You can see that in TV that we watched in the sixties versus the seventies. We went from Dragnet, “Just the facts, ma’am,” to Starsky and Hutch, and Dirty Harry in the eighties. And we were also moving into the war on drugs too, which really changed their focus. There were a lot of things that were going on socially and also with law enforcement.
Crime-TV.com: Because this period has been documented so heavily in the true crime genre, is there anything that still hasn’t been covered or maybe there’s a misconception based on everything we’ve already seen and heard?
KM: We forget that this is an era where women and minorities are starting to enter the workforce. They’re starting to have more leisure time and they’re out more. What this means for serial killers is there are far more targets out there for them to choose from.
We have to remember in the sixties, we still had that suburbia sort of mid-century idea of what a family is. In the seventies and eighties, we completely upended that. We had women that were taking ownership of the direction of their lives. They’re hitchhiking, they’re trying new things. And so along with that, there’s just more victim opportunity.
Crime-TV.com: From a media perspective, true crime is now a massive enterprises. There are whole networks devoted to true crime content, and A&E is one of the leaders in the space as well. Why have true crime stories become so appealing to viewers?
KM: I think because we are starting to understand a little bit more about how the justice system works. We didn’t know how cases made it through the court system, and then we had Court TV and that sort of exposed us to what happens during a trial. We’ve learned a little bit more and we’ve had more access, a little bit more transparency into what happens to offenders as they move through the justice system. That’s really sparked a lot of interest for us because there are all those cases.
Serial killings by and large, it’s still statistically rare. And so, how they’re handled in a particular jurisdiction or a particular location, it’s still fascinating to us. Again referencing Dragnet, the shows in the fifties, it really was like there was a crime, you reported it to the police, you don’t know what happened and then there was justice. But now we’re seeing just how the sausage is made.
Crime-TV.com: True crime as entertainment also means a platform for education. For the fans who watch something like Invisible Monsters, can we take that interest and parlay that into learning more or doing something constructive about the criminal justice issues in our communities?
KM: For me, it’s always about victims. One of the things that people I don’t think really understand is that the criminal justice system was really devoid of victim input. The criminal justice system is a place where you catch offenders, you process offenders, you punish offenders, and there’s no voice for victims. Only within the past 20 to 30 years have there been victim advocates. I want people to remember the victims and the victims’ families as they are going through these shows, and [think about] how victims can receive support.
I’m not talking financial support, but just support from the community. A lot of these victims’ families, they may have had someone that was struggling with drug addiction, or they may have been sex workers. And years before we had stigma about sex work and runaways and LGBTQ—these marginalized populations. I want people to think about victim advocacy, especially for those marginalized populations, and how they can support them.
Crime-TV.com: Is there anything else specific you hope people take away from watching Invisible Monsters: Serial Killers in America?
KM: I just want people to really appreciate the context of the times and just how difficult it was to really bring these five killers to justice. They had such limited tools and yet they were still able to do it. We’ve come a long way, but what we need to do is still keep moving in the right direction.
Brittany Frederick has worked 20 years as a professional journalist, reaching millions of readers worldwide with thousands of articles. Her one goal is to meet Jonathan Groff, but she’s sung with Adam Levine and gone 200 MPH with Mario Andretti. Email her at email@example.com and follow her on Twitter @tvbrittanyf.